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Wedding ceremony customs
In several traditions, the best man or best woman may have the duty of keeping track of a couple's wedding rings and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the rings during the traditional marriage ceremony. In more elaborate weddings, a ring bearer (usually a young boy that is part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the rings into the ceremony, often on a special cushion.
In older times, the wedding rings were not only a sign of love, but were also linked to the bestowal of 'earnest money'. According to the prayer book of Edward VI: after the words 'with this ring I thee wed' follow the words 'This gold and silver I give thee', at which point the groom was supposed to hand a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins to the bride.
Historically, the wedding ring was rather connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding rather than a symbol of eternal love and devotion. It is a relic of the times when marriage was a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families were then eager to ensure the economical safety of the young couple. Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this old (and today outdated) German formula shows: 'I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers'.
In some European countries, the wedding ring is the same as the engagement ring and changes its status through engraving and the change of the hand on which to wear it. If the wedding ring is different from the engagement ring, the question whether or not the engagement ring should be worn during the ceremony leaves a few options. The bride may wear it on her left ring finger and have the groom put the wedding band over it. She may also wear it on her right ring finger. The bride may also continue wearing the rings on different hands after the wedding – this may prevent the engagement ring from scratching and scuffing. Another option is to have the main bridesmaid keep the ring during the ceremony – there are a variety of ways to keep it: in a pouch, on a plate, etc. After the ceremony, the ring can be placed back on either the left or the right hand. The finger is always the ring finger, but there are cultural differences whether the wedding ring is worn on the left hand or the right hand.
The right hand is the traditional hand for vows or oaths. It is raised when such an oath is given, so the wedding ring would here show the sincerety of the oath. A traditional reason to wear the wedding ring on the right hand stems from Roman custom and biblical references. The Latin word for left is "sinister", which in addition to this sense also has the same senses as the English word. The Latin word for right is "dexter", a word that evolved into "dexterity". Hence, the left hand had a negative connotation and the right a good one. For the same reason, an oath is sworn while raising the right hand.
The left hand is also used for cultures that believe in the vena amoris or "vein of love" that is believed to be found in the left ring finger. However, the most widely accepted explanation is that because the majority of people are right-handed, wearing the ring on the left hand makes it less likely to be damaged or lost during everyday activities.
The double-ring ceremony, or use of wedding rings for both partners, is a relatively recent innovation. The American jewellery industry started a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging this practice in the late 19th century. Learning from marketing lessons of the 1920s, changing economic times, and the impact of World War II, led to a more successful marketing campaign, and by the late 1940s, double-ring ceremonies made up for 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the Great Depression.